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Dan Byers and Contemporary Art at the Carnegie

"Great museums are surrounded by great cities," says Dan Byers, the Carnegie Museum of Art's new assistant curator of Contemporary Art. Byers arrived in Pittsburgh last May, in a U-Haul, from Minneapolis where he was the curatorial fellow at Walker Art Center.

"When I relocate to a new town, I like to drive to it," he says. "That way, I get a better sense of distance, and a feel for the city's context within the surrounding landscape"

A graduate of Skidmore (studio art degree), with a Master's from Bard College's Center for  Curatorial Studies, Originally from Boston, Byers has moved around quite a bit and now makes his home in the eccentric and uniquely Pittsburgh neighborhood of Polish Hill. He lives around the corner from Gooski's Bar, a place he first visited in 2004 while attending the Carnegie International.  

Now he enjoys watching other people move into his adopted nabe, including young people and artists, the kind of demographic that attracts investors such as the owner of one building nearby that will soon house a bookstore, a café and a record store.

While Dan considers himself lucky to be in Pittsburgh in a job he loves, he's impressed by the people here and he believes the way people move through a city makes it great.  Not only does he recognize the innate warmth of well-planted locals, he notices how others who come back to Pittsburgh after residing elsewhere bring their experiences with them, allowing it to remain vital and interesting.

Artists are incredible ambassadors capable of creating great exchanges, in his view. Not only do artists who live in Pittsburgh tend to revitalize those areas; they also succeed in attracting more of their kind.  And artists who visit Pittsburgh then share their experiences in art capitals such as New York, London and Berlin, and spread the word about Pittsburgh and its reputation as a center for contemporary art.

The Art of Disruption
One of Byer's goals is to offer range and diversity in art to stimulate as many patrons as possible. "The public, over time, needs to learn how to embrace art, even when its message is uncomfortable", he says, "and it's the musuem's job to create a comfortable environment for this and equip people with enough information to find a way in."

Another goal is to continue to grow the museum and its ability to draw art, artists and the public into its community.  Through the museum, "Art is made available to everyone, even if it isn't  "for" everyone," Byers says. He feels the museum is "ideally posed to serve artists" so he's out to create programs to challenge artists.

He originated Culture Club, which takes place evenings with open bar on the third Thursdays of most months, in order to "talk about the content of the galleries in more social settings and create a dialogue among curators across  various disciplines." It's been a hit with the general public, he notes and "that's hugely ok." (Note: Pop City is a proud sponsor and that's hugely okay, too.)

While art can bring peope together, "Art must be stimulating and challenging, as well as accessible; but at the same time, the observer must be open to some degree of discomfort, because sometimes it's the job of art to create disruption," he says.

Since The Carnegie Museum of Art is the first place Dan has worked that is not exclusively dedicated to exhibiting contemporary works, he embraces this as an opportunity to place the art in a different context, and to collaborate with specialists in other area. While art history is an established narrative, the story of most Contemporary Art is still being written. Byers hopes to serve the Carnegie Museum by choosing the art that's as interesting in 20 years as it is now.  

"The permission to fail" is part of risk taking, and that's where Dan thinks most interesting art comes from.  By presenting diverse kinds of art, he feels he's most likely to engage the public, get more artists to participate, and serve the museum so that it grows as an institution.  Along the way, he's eager to utilize spaces at the Carnegie, such as the outdoor sculpture garden, to entice people to enjoy their surroundings as much as the art that goes on display.

Best way to find out what's he up to? Check this lineup, and hurry to submit your own two-minute film for the competition July 15th.

July 2-October 3, 2010 in the Forum Gallery
Forum 65: Jons, Koester, Nashashibi/Skaer: "Reanimation"
The Forum Gallery will be darkened to invite viewers in from the summer heat to view three "cool" films being shown in tandem.  This juxtaposition allows visitors to compare and contrast these beautiful and optically interesting short pieces, says Byers.

July 15, 7:30 PM (reception), 9:30 PM (screening)  – in the Sculpture Garden
Culture Club: Two-Minute Film Festival themed "A Brief History of…"To complement this exhibition, the Museum of Art invites amateur and professional artists and filmmakers to submit their best and shortest work for consideration  in the Two-Minute Film Festival, an evening of food, drink, and film in the museum's outdoor Sculpture Court. Films should be around the broad theme "A Brief History of…" and may be created using any media of the filmmaker's choice. Just make it two minutes or less.  Click here for details. And stay tuned to Pop City to learn more.

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Photographs copyright Brian Cohen

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